A French and an American scientist have won the Nobel Prize for physics, for finding ways to measure quantum particles without destroying them.
Their work could make it possible to build a new kind of computer far more powerful than any seen before.
Serge Haroche and David Wineland, both 68, found ways to manipulate the very smallest particles of matter and light to observe strange behaviour that previously could only be imagined in equations and thought experiments.
Wineland once described his own work as a "parlour trick" that performed the seemingly magical feat of putting an object in two places at once. Other scientists praised the achievements as bringing to life the wildest dreams of science fiction.
"The Nobel laureates have opened the door to a new era of experimentation with quantum physics by demonstrating the direct observation of individual quantum particles without destroying them," said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awarded them the $US1.2 million prize.
"Perhaps the quantum computer will change our everyday lives in this century in the same radical way as the classical computer did in the last century."
Mr Haroche told Reuters he hoped the prize would give him a platform that will allow him to communicate ideas, "not just in this field of research but for research in general, fundamental research".
Physics is the second of this year's crop of awards; scientists from Britain and Japan shared the first prize on Monday, in medicine, for adult stem cell research.
The prizes, which reward achievements in science, literature and peace, were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of Swedish dynamite millionaire Alfred Nobel.
"This year's Nobel Prize recognises some of the most incredible experimental tests of the weirder aspects of quantum mechanics," said Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics at the University of Surrey in Britain.
"Until the last decade or two, some of these results were nothing more than ideas in science fiction or, at best, the wilder imaginations of quantum physicists. Wineland and Haroche and their teams have shown just how strange the quantum world really is and opened up the potential for new technologies undreamt of not so long ago."